In the space of six weeks in the dead of winter when not much in the way of new award-worthy material is being released, five groups gather and hand out their respective prizes to what they collectively believe to be the best of the year before. Three of these groups (Critic's Choice, BAFTA and the Screen Actors Guild) are given a modicum of attention by the media and next to no acknowledgement by the public at large. Even people who consider themselves hard-core film fans care little about who wins what in these ceremonies.
Long considered the only film award that really matters, the Oscar (awarded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) -- like many things nowadays -- isn't what it used to be. Conversely, the Golden Globes is not only growing in popularity with movie fans, it is gaining fast in terms of prestige within the artistic community.
In 2009 -- in a move that simultaneously came off as desperate and hip -- AMPAS raised the number of Best Picture nominees from five to 10. It really wasn't new; between 1932 and 1943, the Best Picture category had 10 nominees and, in a rare moment of clarity, AMPAS realized so long ago that 10 was too many and actually lessened its brand. The 2009 return to 10 (or sometimes nine) had little to no effect on the demographic AMPAS was trying to reach -- mainstream audiences that felt (rightfully) that AMPAS was run by blowhard, elitist snobs. Conversely, many stalwart members of AMPAS (again rightfully) decried the decision as a fawning sell-out move.
If AMPAS had really wanted to attract bigger audiences, it should have just done what the Globes have had in place since its inception: have two separate Best Picture categories. With both a Best Drama and Best Comedy or Musical category, there could still be 10 nominees, but they would be competing with other films of relatively the same genre. The last time a true comedy won the Best Picture Oscar was "Annie Hall" way back in 1977. In the past 35 years there have been many comedies that could easily have won the top prize.
This same 5/5 framework is applied to the Globes' lead acting categories. Again, it divides the drama and comedy/musical categories and gets more mainstream titles into the mix without watering down or thinning the prestige factor for the winner or the runner-up nominees. If the Globes wanted to get it right completely, they would do the same thing with the Supporting categories.
Another area where AMPAS seems stuck in the mud and stubbornly entrenched is with the ceremony itself. As frequent host Johnny Carson so succinctly observed during one of his many stints, the show is "two hours of sparkling entertainment spread out over a four-hour show." After regularly teasing the audience at the top of the program with one of the only six major awards (always a Best Supporting performer), AMPAS spends the better part of the next three hours doling out fringe awards even hard-core film fanatics could care less about. "Best Documentary Short?" "Best Sound Effects Editing?" With all due respect to the winners in these less-popular categories, nobody at home really cares and all this accomplishes is in increasing the boredom, snooze and resentment factors to intolerable levels.
Whenever AMPAS employs a single multi-ceremony host (Carson, Bob Hope and Billy Crystal) the ratings fare far better than when it tries to spread the wealth via teams. These men were asked to come back again and again because they were likeable and knew how to work the room. Interrupting long stretches of long-winded tedium with quick-witted, well-written shtick goes far in keeping the audience (both at the ceremony itself and in millions of living rooms) on their toes and alert. All three of those men knew how to balance good-natured ribbing, pointed sarcasm, broad comedy and heartfelt sincerity.
Only recently putting formidable thought into its choice of host, the Globes -- in keeping with its irreverent, bad-boy image -- has gotten itself into hot water. This occurred in 2010, 2011 and 2012 when Ricky Gervais -- a fearless, full throttle comedian -- was widely admonished for what many considered going too far with his roast-level insults of the celebrities in the audience. Recognizing it would be difficult to ever temper or harness Gervais, the Globes hit the perfect balance when it hired friends and long-time professional collaborators Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in 2013. As a result, the Globes had its highest-ever ratings and put even more pressure on AMPAS.
Shortly after Fey and Poehler were announced in December, AMPAS took perhaps the biggest chance in its 85-year history by pegging Seth MacFarlane to be the 2013 host. The brains (and most of the voices) behind the animated TV series "Family Guy" and the smash 2012 feature "Ted," the tall, dark and handsome MacFarlane is just as if not more "out there" than Gervais, but he is also a more than capable singer who will almost assuredly be a huge draw for that demographic AMPAS has forever coveted but never snared: 18- to 24-year-old males. You can bet that AMPAS will go to great lengths to try and trim down the mammoth running time (usually four and a half hours) of the broadcast this year and that MacFarlane will sing, dance, be topical and yes -- gently insult the nominees.
In addition to always clocking in at just around three hours, the Globes also benefits greatly from not including those pesky technical awards and -- this has always been crucial to its success -- providing its nominees with copious amounts of booze.
While many might view this "open bar" practice to be both professionally risky and ethically questionable, few can argue that it isn't a practical iron-clad springboard to great, spontaneous television. Long acknowledged as the oldest and ultimate truth serum, alcohol is also the ideal emollient in getting anyone who consumes it to not only drop their guard, but to also say things they'd never say in daylight or while sober.
There hasn't been a single broadcast in the last two decades when someone hasn't had one or two (or three) too many and gone off the reservation and on a tangent when behind the podium. While this can prove to be sometimes embarrassing to the speaker, it also provides the crackling, dangerous air of an automobile race. People go to car racing events for one of two reasons: to witness the athletic and/or technical prowess or to see the crashes.
Whether she had anything to drink prior to her speech accepting this year's Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award, the usually tight-lipped Jodie Foster kinda-sorta but not exactly proclaimed what many have essentially acknowledged for years -- her same-sex sexual orientation. Alternately giddy, rambling, unclear and sincere, Foster -- for probably the only time in public -- let her hair down and endeared herself to millions who previously viewed her as a highly talented, but tightly wound woman. It was one of the greatest bits of live TV in the history of awards ceremonies, warts and all.
Another glorious highlight of the recent Globes broadcast came during the acceptance speech of Ben Affleck for his win as Best Director for "Argo." Only days after Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow ("Zero Dark Thirty") were snubbed by the AMPAS nominating committee, Affleck -- again, not exactly but kinda-sorta -- stuck his proverbial finger in Oscar's eye by saying that winning the award was secondary with those with which he shared the nomination. This pointed jab by Affleck wasn't so much an example of selfishness or sour grapes, but rather the continuing record of AMPAS disconnect. It will be interesting to see who wins the coveted Director's Guild award on Feb. 2 for which both Affleck and Bigelow are nominated.
The best thing about the now inescapable competition between the Golden Globes and the Oscars is that each, in its own snail-paced way, is improving the other. Just like in the movies, the ragged upstart is nipping at the heels of the reigning champion and giving it cause for concern. While the Globes continue to grow more prestigious and artistically relevant, AMPAS recognizes that in order to remain the industry's most ultimate prize, it must adapt -- if only a little bit at a time -- and become more reflective of the tastes of those who put food on their table: the audience.